Tag Archive for curriculum

Arts Classes Publishing With Flickr

Arts teachers have embedded two Flickr slideshows (1 | 2)  on our public-facing website. I like how students and teachers may contribute to the photo sets, constantly changing what appears on the site. Does a way exist to add a group pool to one’s Flickr favorites without actually joining it?

Extending the learning community

Publication of student work on the website extends the learning community beyond the classroom to the entire school community. Key to this effort is a school website that includes a community publishing platform. Students and teachers choose whether to make the work viewable to the school community only (students, staff, parents, alumni) or the public, depending on the pedagogical goal of the work. Learning becomes a community endeavor rather than only a classroom pursuit, increasing authenticity and mutual understanding of the work that happens at school.

Click on each title to view the content at Catlin Gabel.

Urban Studies blog

Students tackle topics of sustainable development in Portland, “The City That Works.” During the school year, we offer a semester elective. The summer brings an intensive program with students from different schools.

Science Projects blog

Students report on their independent research plans, progress, and results. The teacher provides feedback in the form of comments. Only one of the students has made her blog public, so you won’t see the work of the others on this page.

The Catlin Coverslip

The science department invites all Catlin Gabel community members to contribute items of interest to this blog.

Nepal 2010 blog

Blogging about global trips increases the sense of community experience. The 15 lucky students who go on the trip become ambassadors for the rest of the school, no longer the sole beneficiaries of the experience.

Spanish V Honors blog

Students get out into the community to research the hispanic presence in Oregon. Through the blog, they report their findings back to the community and help educate us all. This project includes a lot of primary audio and video footage from Portland.

Honors Arts Projects portfolios

Students attach photo galleries to their blog posts to create a portfolio, in this case to support their  college applications.

Fifth grade Fractured Fairytales

Students create “alternate” versions of classic fairytales, then we publish them so that parents and others students may read them as well.

Sixth grade Language Arts Poetry Box

Students write poetry, but then the teacher publishes both the text and an audio version for parents and the rest of the community to enjoy.

Senior Project blogs

We have now collected two years’ worth of blog posts from seniors reporting and reflecting on their spring projects. Up until now, all of the posts have been for the Catlin Gabel community only. This year, students will make the public/community-only decision for each post. Watch this page in May 2010 to follow their progress.

Experience and Education

We read Dewey’s Experience and Education first in our graduate program. I recently had two experiences that reminded me of the necessity to make authentic student experience central in the design of a educational environments.

We introduced fourth grade students to web research with a simple activity. Ask them to find ten discrete facts on the web using Google Search. We modeled good search techniques in class and provided two paper resources. One listed the ten facts to find, and the other described a cyclical method for refining search terms in order to improve results. We talked about authority of websites and how to scan a web page for content. This introductory lesson went really well. Students learned the protocol, proceeded through the activity, and found the facts.

More recently, students applied this knowledge in a plant research project. Each assigned one plant they had seen in the Oregon woods, the students searched for the taxonomic name for the plant, its ideal growing environment, nutritional value, average height, and other facts. Students took much longer to find this information. Many got stuck partway through and needed help.”I can’t find the scientific name!” “Where can I find ‘food value’?”

Why the difference? The second activity was more authentic and experiential. Students were engaging with real information about plants they had found and held and searching for them on the “real” web. These searches had not been tested in advance to compile a worksheet. Rather, students had to understand what a taxonomic name actually is, rather than look for the term “scientific name.” They had to be flexible and understand that “nutritional value” or comments on why an animal might eat these plants made up the “food value” they were seeking. Charting their own course through an authentic environment produced far more useful learning than completing a structured, finite activity.

The Haiti earthquake and resulting humanitarian disaster are very present in our minds these weeks. We are exposed to frequent reports from news sources and support our students’ efforts to raise money and awareness for Haiti. However, all of this does not compare when one’s colleague relates her stories of past trips to Haiti, nervous attempts to contact friends post-quake, and informs the school community that her doctor husband has just left for Haiti with a medical team.

She writes:

It is with those computers that were donated by CG and the Rotary, [my son’s] help, albeit small, in setting them up that has allowed some of the connections and relationships with others around the world. The people of Matenwa are still able to communicate and receive email/news, which is amazing. It is so important to them to know others care and are trying to help.

In the long-term, these experiences are without a doubt more “educational,” but they are messy, difficult to manage, and complicated to assess. We should show the confidence to accommodate the short-term disorder and uncertainty that accompany kids’ struggles with authentic content in order to foment powerful learning.

Thinking Critically About Facebook Apps

What do middle school students need to know about Facebook? On January 13, middle school head Paul Andrichuk and Information Technology staff Daisy Steele and Richard Kassissieh led an afternoon workshop with middle students to encourage critical thought about personal information and the corporate entities behind the popular social network site.

Click on the links in this outline to see examples shared with the students.

What is a social network?

Facebook is the leader of social network sites, but many more exist. If we broaden our view to social media sites, in fact dozens exist. Social network sites represent a significant development, because:

1. Ordinary users contribute most of the content.
2. Companies have little control over site content.
3. They appeal to people’s sense of community.

Adoption is widespread. Alexa estimates that 30% of their users worldwide visit Facebook every day.

So much about social networks is new. People and organizations are less able to keep tight control over their website presence. Even giant companies are still figuring it out. Individuals have gained the possibility to use social media to gain unprecedented visibility.

How will the use of social networks change how people communicate? Facebook’s CEO thinks that it is changing social norms. Many disagree. How will students use social networks for good? What will Facebook do next? What will succeed Facebook?

The goal of today’s workshop is to apply our critical thinking skills to our use of social networks.

Students proceeded into three breakout groups by grade level. They then participated in three sessions led by Paul, Daisy, and Richard. Paul and two upper school students introduced sixth grade students to the process of setting up a new Facebook account. Daisy examined privacy settings with seventh and eighth graders. Richard investigated how Facebook applications access personal information. Below, please find notes from the apps workshop.

All About Apps (seventh and eighth grades)

A Facebook application ("app") is a piece of software that adds functionality to your Facebook page. Most are games or information-gathering devices (e.g., polls).

Most apps are built by companies other than Facebook. Installing an app shares your profile information with that other company.

To view your list of installed apps and uninstall one, go to the Applications link in the lower left-hand corner of the Facebook interface and click Edit Applications.

You may recognize status updates generated by applications from their nonstandard icons, the "via" text, and phrases like "Click here to help."

Though I am sure you are a very helpful person, clicking on that link will lead to the installation of a new app.

Note that Farmville will gain access to your profile information, photos, and freinds information, at the very least. Are you okay with this?

During the workshop, students completed a role play activity to learn more about the movement of personal information between a user, Facebook, and Zynga (the maker of Farmville). Download the handout.

After the role play, the group discussed the following questions.

  • What information does Zynga now have about you and your friend?
  • Did Zynga need this information for the game to work?
  • What else might Zynga do with your personal information?
  • What would prevent Zynga from doing something unethical with your information?
  • What could Facebook do to ensure that application developers keep your information safe?

The presenter then provided the group with more information about Zynga.

Clicking Allow indicates that you agree to the Farmville Terms of Service, which would should read and understand! Just one part of the TOS is fairly illuminating.

Section 4c

You grant to Zynga the unrestricted, unconditional, unlimited, worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual fully-paid and royalty-free right and license to host, use, copy, distribute, reproduce, disclose, sell, resell, sublicense, display, perform, transmit, publish, broadcast, modify, make derivative works from, retitle, reformat, translate, archive, store, cache or otherwise exploit in any manner whatsoever, all or any portion of your User Content [emphasis added] to which you have contributed, for any purpose whatsoever, in any and all formats; on or through any and all media, software, formula or medium now known or hereafter known; and with any technology or devices now known or hereafter developed and to advertise, market and promote same.

Can you trust Zynga with your personal information? Foudner and CEO Mark Pincus speaks in the following video about the measures he took to raise money for the company. The video sheds some light on the character of Zynga, its founder, and its reasons for existence. This may help you make an informed decisions about whether to share your personal information with this company.

Other companies have come under scrutiny for their security practices. RockYou improperly handled and inadvertently exposed 32 million usernames, passwords, and email address. Another company produced a "Secret Crush" application that didn’t actually reveal a secret crush but instead installed unwanted advertising on their computer.

We encourage student to think critically about Facebook apps and understand how personal information is handled when you play one of these games.

Elementary Tech Integration Progress

This year, we are trying a new model for integrating technology instruction into fourth and fifth grades. Our weekly schedule offers two 40 minute periods per class for technology instruction, and classes have access to the adjacent 4/5 computer lab throughout the rest of the day. As a result, students use technology at various times of the day as well as during technology periods.

This year, we have made an effort to more fully integrate the dedicated technology periods with the homeroom academic program. We had a goal: to make as many technology class activities as possible relate to specific homeroom activities. Technology activities could relate in one of three ways:

Parallel with homeroom work
Students complete work for an active homeroom project during technology periods. For example, this week students are conducting research and documenting sources for a project on native plants. During homeroom periods, students have collected and studied native plant specimens found in the woods.

Fifth grade students are working on a Fractured Fairytales project, in which they invent altered versions of classic fairytales. During technology periods, students are writing and formatting text and graphics in Microsoft Word, with the ultimate goal of creating a digital book of their piece.

In Science class, students complete experiments to determine how much water different paper towels can absorb and prepare to report their results back to the towel manufacturers. During the Technology periods, students record their data in Microsoft Excel and prepare graphs to include in their letters.

Extension of homeroom work
At other times, we design a technology component to a project that begins after the homeroom component is complete. While not as tightly integrated with homeroom work, a well-designed extension project may still pursue an authentic learning objective. We must take care that the electronic final product is not superfluous, considering the work already completed during homeroom.

Early in the year, fifth grade students visited three farms as part of their Pitchfork To Plate yearlong theme. After students returned from the visit, they created line art diagrams in Microsoft Word that explained one process they observed on the farms.

Standalone Technology Activities
This is the loosest form of coordination with the homeroom. One might even argue that these activities only support technology-specific curricular goals. I believe that the technology goals of the curriculum should still support aims of the homeroom. If they do not, then we have insufficient coordination across students’ learning experiences.

Consider typing practice. While using a typing application is a pure technology activity, the skill of typing is important to gain, so that it does not become an obstacle to writing at a reasonable speed. By fifth grade, students complete a majority of their writing on a computer, so the technology activity is directly aligned with a meaningful homeroom objective. It’s been important to keep students focused reaching speed and accuracy benchmarks, since the classroom tie-in (the authentic learning purpose) is less obvious than with other technology class activities.

We have so far this year succeeded in always teaching applications in the context of a homeroom activity, avoiding the temptation to teach them only within the context of technology class.

Joint Planning
We have also experimented with models for coordinating lesson planning between homeroom and technology teachers. At the start of the year, I met with the homeroom teachers to agree on broad curricular goals but taught all of the technology periods myself, in order to establish a strong relationship with the students and get to know the curriculum well. In November, homeroom teachers began to take on some of the teaching responsibilities, in order to ensure strong integration with the homeroom program and help carry the teaching load.

We pursued different approaches to sharing periods in the two grades. In fourth grade, homeroom teachers teach Monday technology periods, and I teach Wednesdays. In fifth grade, homeroom teachers are currently teaching the first half of Fractured Fairytales, and I will take the class back over later this month to work on the layout and publication components of the project.

So far, alternating periods has led to tighter integration and planning, since I am essentially co-teaching the class with the homeroom teachers. Alternating 2-3 week chunks has required less coordination, which leads to looser integration but requires less planning time. We will see later this year which approach was ultimately best overall.

Next Year
It is just about time to give some thought to next year. Will I teach at least half the technology periods, as I have this year? Will we change the technology schedule so that we have fewer dedicated technology periods and integrate more of the technology instruction into the regular work of the homeroom? In our middle and high schools, we have no dedicated technology periods. Technology is wholly integrated with regularly classroom instruction, imperfectly but authentically. Should we move in the same direction in our elementary program, and how quickly?

How do you integrate technology knowledge and skills instruction in your elementary programs?

Never mind the toys

Oh, how many toys exist to consider.

Kindle! Nook! Reader!
iPhone! Droid! Nexus!
Ning! Twitter! Facebook!
Netbook! Apple tablet! XO tablet!
Smart Board! Active Board! Wiimote!
Google Apps! Chrome!

Education technology blogs appear obsessed with tracking the latest gadgets. Certainly, new product announcements provide a rich source of content for writers. It is easier to reflect on the latest company news and speculate on its effect on education than to consider the core question of education. How does one design rich learning opportunities that will make the greatest difference for students?

Face it: most of the devices above won’t make a bit of difference to teaching and learning. Let’s stop talking about the devices and start talking about students, teachers, and learning environments. I think Warlick has got it right. So does Larry Cuban. Tom Frizelle, too.

Some of our teachers have also got it right. Suspicious about education technology, they tend to shy away from trainings and conversations about computers in the classroom. It’s too bad, because ed tech professionals deserve our reputation for relentless optimism about new technologies. It’s up to us to sing a new tune: all about teaching and learning, all the time.

Let’s promote with our teachers only the technologies that show real promise and stick with them for at least a period of years. Focus on how a technology integrates with an existing, well-designed learning unit or activity. A little skepticism about new technologies may also help demonstrate our ability to think critically.

Forget the new toys. Let’s think deeply about our students, curriculum, and pedagogy.

All Kinds Of Minds in action

You may know the whole-brain teaching philosophy called All Kinds of Minds. A majority of our teachers attend professional development days to learn this brain-based approach to teaching students, one part of our approach to progressive education. Teachers learn to construct learning activities that work for different types of learners. Students learn to identify their own learning strengths and weaknesses and appreciate the unique set of qualities that each person possesses. Such an approach gives students responsibility for their own learning. In the following video, second grade students share what they have learned about their own skills and brains.

The video also serves as a fine example of teacher use of technology to share student learning with the school community. This second grade teacher collected media, produced this video, and presented it to parents without requesting any assistance from our IT department. Well done!

Curriculum map in Drupal

Two weeks to go until live! This week, I migrated our school curriculum map from a custom system I authored into Drupal. This allows us to ensure the longevity of this web site resource, take advantage of Drupal’s strengths in structuring content storage and display, and provide teachers with a very usable editing interface. The curriculum map stores over a thousands nodes and can be added to an existing Drupal site. This article assumes familiarity with Drupal 6 views, content construction kit, blocks, and very basic custom function programming. This isn’t a step-by-step tutorial (maybe one day).

Curriculum map course content type holds courses. The description field is not yet populated but available for course descriptions. Taxonomy categories for division, grades, and subjects are applied to this content type. A node reference field is used to connect each curriculum map course node to as many curriculum map units as necessary. The autocomplete node reference widget is used to allow the user to re-order the units as desired. It may be difficult for a user to find the correct unit node using autocomplete if it is not named creatively. It may be a good upgrade to use a view to display more identifying information than the title for the autocomplete search.

Curriculum map unit content type has a textarea field for each curriculum map category. We use the following: essential questions, habits of mind, content, skills and processes, assessment, resources, multicultural dimension, and integrated learning. In retrospect, having so many categories created a lot of work for teachers, who had to populate some of these categories x each unit x each course they teach.

We authored module cgs_curriculum_map.module to migrate content from our old system into Drupal. It creates content and unit nodes, establishes node reference links between them, populates content fields, and attaches taxonomy terms. This is not necessary for schools starting a curriculum map from scratch.

When the system displays a curriculum map course node, the units also load in a table below the course description. This is accomplished by loading a block view that displays the curriculum map category content for each unit node referenced in the course node. The view is loaded into the content_bottom template region, so that it appears just below the course description field. A simple function in cgs_curriculum_map.module returns a + delimited list of node ids of the unit nodes attached to the currently loaded course node. The display setting for the node reference field in the course content type is set to hidden to prevent unit links from appearing above the unit content itself.

If a user wants to display a single unit in a more readable form, one may link the unit title to its node. The conventional node CCK field display presents fairly well.

A page view with exposed filters lists courses, so that a user may view courses in the desired divisions, grades, or subjects. This is a good starting point for a user.

The user interface for adding new units is currently weak. It would be clever to load the curriculum map unit node add form in a lightbox above the curriculum map course page, so that a teacher could create a new unit on the fly and still have it show up in the node reference autocomplete field. Also, some node edit form elements are named in such a way that may confuse teachers. For example, the edit tab on the curriculum map course node page will likely be construed as providing editing access to the unit nodes (you actually have to view the unit before you can edit it).

I am currently having difficulty using both arguments and filters together. The argument limits the initial course list to a single division in the division pages, but the filters attach additional criteria using ? arguments. When both exist, the view returns no nodes. It may be that the view is applying terms from one taxonomy to the other, where they don’t exist, causing the empty result set.

Use pathauto on the curriculum map content types and menu block visibility to load the correct secondary navigation menu when the view is displaying curriculum map entries.

curriculum map list view

curriculum map course view

Thinking about curricular integration


The PNAIS TechShare planning committee would like each member school to articulate its technology philosophy and future plans. They hope that answering these questions will inform the technology planning efforts of other member schools. The committee asked us to think about where we are now and where we are headed. I responded to their questions as follows:

1. Describe your school’s technology philosophy.

Catlin Gabel technology resources support the educational mission of the school. We aspire to a high standard of excellence, delivering systems that work reliably and with high quality. We anticipate and plan for new opportunities and empower users to investigate new applications of technology, solve computer problems, and collaborate with IT staff. We carry out our work with a support orientation and high integrity. We make decisions in order to minimize the environmental impact of computer use.

2. What is your vison for classroom technology five years from now?

To continue to deepen its application to teaching and learning in a variety of forms. All teachers will list their curricular and pedagogical goals for their classes, consider how technology could help meet these goals, and regularly attempt new, technology-enriched activities. The forms will cover the range of available technologies, such as touch surfaces, the social web, data-collection devices, audio and video publishing, and so on. Teachers will feel fully supported by IT and empowered to design and attempt new, technology-rich activities in their classes. Teachers will participate in an active community of practice with their colleagues both within the school and beyond.

3. Do you have teachers willing to adapt curriculum to utilize technology innovations,or asking for technology so that they can?

Yes, though I would use language such as “employ technology to support curricular goals in their courses.” I would say that a large minority of teachers change curricula as they employ technology in their classes. We will know better after the completion of an upper school laptop program survey next week.

4. Explain how you support teacher innovators.

We consider all teachers to be potential innovators and therefore approach them about the same. We respond quickly and definitively to teacher requests for advice and support, including appearing in their classes to assist a teacher with technology-rich lessons if desired. We encourage all teachers to thoughtfully consider how technology could support teaching and learning in their classes. Often, innovation comes from surprising sources — not necessarily the most technically advanced individuals. We encourage all teachers to share their work with technology with their colleagues in both formal and informal settings. We encourage all teachers to actively seek professional development opportunities here and outside the school.

5. Describe your technology professional development plan for all employees.

The school offers three sources of funding for professional development: individual, department/division, and schoolwide. Individuals have an allotment of funds to spend where they prefer. Divisions and departments have funds to undertake professional development efforts for some or all of their members. Schoolwide initiatives such as All Kinds of Minds are also available. The school does not have a separate plan for technology professional development nor specific requirements for how much technology PD individuals should undertake.

6. Define the infrastructure (wiring, traffic capacities, switches, severs, wirless) changes you will need to make to support the five-year vision you described above.

We feel that we already have in place the baseline infrastructure to support this vision. We will continue to make incremental changes, such as introducing a wireless controller to enable better management of our wireless network, piloting small form-factor laptops such as the eeePC and 2Go to assess their potential for the classroom, and investigating social web site tools for our intranet and public-facing web sites.

7. What changes in human resources will you need to make to support that vision?

We are meeting our needs for the immediate future. We will continue to assess the workloads of our employees and request increases as appropriate.